Warming stew: Lentejas

Its pouring with rain today in London making the autumn evening dark even sooner…whats needed is a warming stew.

I’ve made this one a few times but the first time I did was back in early 2010 when the lovely people at Orce Serrano Hams sent me some of their chorizo and morcilla to try. This dish adapted from the Moro cookbook seemed the perfect way to try them out.

It’s pretty easy and quite and of course you can use chorizo and black pudding sourced in the UK but the Orce morcilla was something truly special, well worth treating yourself or friend to.

My Lentejas (Lentil, chorizo and morcilla stew)

200g of whole chorizo sweet or spicy as you prefer, slice into 2cm chunks

200g of morcilla or black pudding from your favourite supplier, slice into 2cm chunks

1 large onion, chopped


smokey paprika

chilli flakes

250g of green lentils

10 peppadew peppers, sliced (optional)

stock or water

Heat the oil and then add the sliced chorizo and fry over a medium heat to cook and low the spicy juices to flavour the oil. Push the chorizo to one side and add the onion and peppers if using, cook for 5-10 minutes over a low heat to soften. Add the lentils and then the spices. Pour over the stock and bring to the boil. Drop in the sliced morcilla and top up the liquid so everything is just covered. Simmer until the lentils are cooked  and the liquid absorbed (20-30 minutes).

Serve with steamed greens or cabbage and mash or sourdough bread.


Soups and Stocks

Although spring definitely feels like it might be on the way some days are still pretty cold and so a warming soup is just what’s needed, here’s some thoughts on soup I wrote for Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter in January. I think I might just have soup for lunch tomorrow.

January is a funny month. For some people it feels slow and difficult, winter is most definitely with us, its cold and its dark, summer seems such a long way off whichever way you look at it. For others it’s a chance to think afresh of a new year with new challenges, making resolutions and feeling energised by the possibilities. But what has this got to do with soup? Well the versatility of soup and the range of recipes out there mean it can work for whichever way you see January. It can be warming and comforting or bright, lively and refreshing. Hearty or light, you can make it whichever way suits you best.

Roasted root vegetable soup with cheese

To make really good soup though you need some good stock. Water will work in many recipes but I’ve rarely made a soup that isn’t enhanced by using stock rather than water, there is an extra layer of flavour and complexity. People will compliment you on the simplest of soups if you’ve used stock. Making stock doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be as simple as simmering a few vegetables in water with or without a few herbs right up to making a consommé, essentially a beautiful clarified reduced stock. I usually make stocks with the carcass left over from a roast chicken or the bone from a rib of beef, or keep the liquid from cooking boiled ham and use that as a stock, I like doing this because each stock carries some of the flavours of the original meal and it makes best use of the meat you’ve bought. You can also get bones or chicken wings specifically and make a stock with those. Most recipe books will explain how to make a range of stocks but ‘A Celebration of Soup’ by Lindsey Bareham is particularly thorough, if you can track down a copy, with recipes for just about every type of stock you can imagine. Stock is perfect for freezing and then always to hand. If you don’t have a freezer then some good quality stock or bouillon cubes will give you a better result than plain water.

So you have your stock. Where might you head next? These are the things I think about when building a soup:

Thick or thin: Do I want a broth with interesting chunky additions or do I want something thick and velvety smooth in texture. Clearly you can pick somewhere between these two but I like to decide which direction I’m heading on this one before anything else.

Herbs or spices: I usually either head for something based round European flavours and herbs or something mainly based round spices whether Indian, Mexican, Middle or Far Eastern. Then I narrow down a bit to a more specific cuisine British, French, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, Chinese, Thai, Indian and so on.

Then I take a look in the fridge and the cupboards and see what fits with the ideas I’ve got. Of course a little bit of tweaking happens at this stage when I find a critical part of my genius soup is sadly unavailable, but usually it is easy to stay fairly close to the original idea. If there is left over roast meat that might feature, sometimes there are roasted root vegetables that can be included, or beans of various types, pearl barley or lentils, tinned tomatoes or passata, chorizo or pancetta or salami, fresh ginger or chilli, mushrooms, potatoes (roast potatoes are lovely in soup), peas and so on …… but not all in the same soup. I rarely follow a recipe specifically but I do always take a look in a few books to help my ideas and also make sure I’m not making some horror of clashing ingredients. Sticking to a few key ingredients and combinations that you know work from your other cooking really helps and of course, so does making a soup to a particular recipe every now and then to expand your repertoire.

Here are guidelines to 3 quick soups I make quite often (all recipes for 2).

Beany Pork Soup

  • 500ml stock (preferably ham but chicken or vegetable also work)
  • 1 tins of beans (e.g. chickpea, haricots, butter, red kidney) including the liquid in the tin if its got no added salt
  • Pancetta, salami, chorizo, bacon, left over boiled ham or roast pork, whichever you have
  • Onion (chopped)
  • Oil (rapeseed or olive)
  • Herbs or spice to complement

Sauté the onion in some oil and when translucent add the meat that you are using and toss with the onions, allow to cook through if the meat is raw. Add the stock and the beans. Add your chosen spices and seasoning and simmer gently until it is properly heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve with bread. I sometimes add finely shredded cabbage, greens or spinach to this soup or if there are cold cooked potatoes a couple of those to make it thicker and heartier (mush them in with a fork) or leftover cooked pearl barley.

Roast Root Vegetable Soup

  • 500ml of stock
  • 500ml of roast vegetables (i.e. put them in jug to see how much you have), any mix you like. I particularly like it when there is beetroot as it makes the soup an amazing colour
  • Onion (chopped)
  • Oil (the same as you used to roast the vegetables)
  • Herbs or spices of your choice
  • Cheese to sprinkle on top

Sauté the onion in some oil and when translucent add the stock and the root vegetables. Add your chosen spices and seasoning and simmer gently until it is properly heated through, about 20 minutes. Either whizz in a blender, food processor or using a stick blender or mash with a potato masher. The texture can be anything from velvety smooth to quite chunky but it should all be well combined, this isn’t a broth with bits soup more a liquidy puree. Serve with cheese sprinkled on top and bread.

Spicy Soup

  • 500ml of stock
  • fresh ginger and chilli finely sliced
  • other spices of your choice
  • chicken or beef or prawns or vegetables, cut in small pieces (except prawns)
  • spring onions or garlic finely chopped
  • rapeseed oil

Have the stock already heated in a separate pan. Sauté the spring onions or garlic in the oil until softened. Add the ginger and chilli and sauté for a few minutes. Add any further spices and sauté briefly. Add the meat, vegetables or prawns and cook on a high heat like you would a stir-fry. Add the hot stock and bring to the boil. Serve immediately and add Asian seasoning such as soy sauce or nam pla if you wish. You can add noodles to the stock (cooking to the packet instructions).

Boiled ham, lentils & barley

Often simple food is the best. This is one of the dishes we regularly cooked and i think originally came from Gary Rhodes book Rhodes Around Britain. It really is simple and truly tasty.

We always get a much bigger ham joint than we need so that we have lots left over for sandwiches and shredded in soups.

You need (for the joint):

  • ham or gammon joint – smoked or not as you prefer
  • water/light stock/wine/cider – what ever mix appeals and enough to cover the joint when its in the pan
  • onion, leek, celery, carrot
  • bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme

Then you need to do this:

  1. soak the joint overnight in water if you think its particularly salty, lots of modern joints don’t need soaking, although it does help reduce the ‘scum’ when you start the boiling bit
  2. put the joint, in a pan, add the celery, leeks, carrot, onion all cut into largish chunks and aslo the herbs
  3. cover with fresh water/stock/wine/cider (don’t only use wine or cider but some added to the pan is great)
  4. bring to boil
  5. skim off an scum
  6. simmer for 1 1/2 hours….for some reason the size of joint doesn’t seem to affect the cooking time
  7. turn off the heat and leave for 30 mins in the liquid before carving and serving
  8. keep the liquid and use as a hammy stock in soups

For the lentils and barley you need:

  • 1oz green or puy lentils per person
  • 1oz barley per person
  • some of the cooking liquid from the ham

then with just over 45 minutes before serving put the barley in a  pan and add some of the ham cooking liquid, bring to the boil and simmer with 20 minutes left add the lentils and more liquid is needed, continue to simmer.

Serve the ham sliced on a bed of lentils and barley, with a vegetable such as steamed green or red cabbage and with pickles or mustard of your choice.

Festive menu, part 1

I’m sure everyone has their festive menu’s already sorted. Their shopping list written, deliveries planned, meat ordered and so on. Down to the last detail. So my festive might have come to late. But if you are dithering then read on (and into the remaining parts as they appear) you might find some inspiration. And for those who have everything planned out with military precision well you might find some ideas for surpluses or things to make if you can’t get what you need for your menu on your final dash to the shops.

I cooked this menu last weekend when we had a pre christmas, Christmas dinner with my parents and my brother and sister in law. we’ll all be in different places with other bits of our families on Christmas Day so this was our festive get together complete with tree decorating, silly games, sherry and presents. and of course lots of food.

Here’s the menu:


Selection of smoked and cured salmon
Terrine of Lancashire cheeses (recipe to follow)


Slow roast shoulder of pork served with two stuffings (Chestnut Stuffing recipe to follow)
Roast root vegetables
Roast potatoes
Sprout and peas
Lashing of ‘jus’ from the meat


Sticky ginger pudding
Clementine sorbet (recipe to follow)
Jersey cream

And in the spirit of making things easy for the chef so everyone could spend time chatting rather than sweating over hot stoves lots of it was ‘cheaty’ so bought in but from top quality suppliers. And some of it was very easy to make in advance.

Here’s where I sourced things from:

Salmon: Forman & Sons London Cure smoked Salmon and 3 gravadlax cures

Lancashire cheeses for the terrine (recipe to follow): Butlers Cheeses

Crispbread: Peters Yard (of course!)

Pork shoulder : Anna’s Happy Trotters

Sticky Ginger Pudding: Cartmel Village Shop

So that’s it delicious food from good suppliers making the menu easier but still delicious. Watch out for the recipes coming soon.

The fat of the land

This post was originally published in early November in Francois Murat Design newsletter. Although the apple season is pretty much at an end now many varieties store well so this is still a lovely dish to make over the coming cold months……

Autumn is well and truly here, the nights are drawing in, the weather is cooling day by day. Many of the fruits and vegetables are harvested. Those that can be have been turned into preserves of various kinds or carefully stored away to be used over the winter months.

Apples are still with us and there are varieties that are still being harvested during November but the main crop has been taking place throughout October and celebrated with Apple Day events across the country. Apple Day was started 20 years ago by Common Ground to help save and celebrate the huge range of English apples that were being lost bit by bit. In that time much progress has been made and varieties that were almost lost have been reintroduced. If you care about British food though there is still plenty to be done and attending an Apple Day event can be great fun for all the family with a chance to buy apples, press your own juices or simply learn more about orchards and the variety available. If you missed out this year then put a little reminder in your diary now to seek out apple events next October, and in the meantime support the growers by searching out interesting varieties or even sponsoring a tree at a community orchard project.

Autumn is not only a time for preserving fruit and vegetables its also the time when, traditionally, meat would be preserved in a variety of ways to see the household through winter and save on animal feeding costs. This is particularly true of the pig. In ‘Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery’ Jane Grigson says:

It could be said that European civilization – and Chinese civilization too – has been founded on the pig.’


Of course there are plenty who don’t eat pork and they would disagree with Grigson’s statement and her subsequent analysis. But for many it has been staple of cooking for centuries and the tradition of the autumn pig slaughter and subsequent preserving is well documented. Bacon is also often cited as the meat that vegetarian converts most miss but I’m not sure there is any real data to back this claim up. For those with strong constitutions I highly recommend Jeffrey Steingarten’s essay ‘It takes a Village to Kill a Pig’, not for the faint hearted, but fascinating not least because it was first published in American Vogue, not the sort of place you imagine happening on a detailed account of traditional pig slaughter in a Basque village. Preserving meat is not something I’ve tried although there are now quite few books and courses around on preserving the bounty of the pig and I know of a number of people who make their own sausages, bacon and salami at home. I’d recommend reading Tim Hayward (of The Guardian’s Word of Mouth) articles as a good starting point.

Now of course we can eat pork (and other meat) all year round if we want to. Whether it tastes its best or has been reared in a sustainable manner is of course open to much debate. It seems to make sense to eat less meat, reared in the best way possible and used sensibly. We can learn a lot from the seasons and the way people used to cook though of course we can’t go back to how they lived (and I doubt we would want to) but we can think more carefully about what we eat and when we eat it.

So eating pork at this time of year makes sense seasonally and pairing it with apples has a long heritage. Roast pork and apple sauce is a classic British dish with the apple sauce cutting through the sweet fattiness of the pork. That’s the point of this combination the apple provides a counterpoint to the meat, so often missed with over sweetened commercial sauces. Apple jelly is wonderful with sausages, either on the side or as a glaze to create extra sticky sausages. If you don’t have your own apple jelly to hand then try one with a little kick of chilli for some added interest (Jules & Sharpies Sage & Apple Jelly is my current favourite) track down something local to you and support a local food business.

There’s a recipe I’ve been cooking for years that sprang to mind (from an early Delia Smith book) after I’d been to an Apple Day event at Copped Hall in Essex recently. I think it’s the first dish I cooked entirely on my own at home but I wanted to do it a bit differently this time and make it into an almost one-pot dish. It’s simple, pretty quick and of course tasty.

Creamy pork, apples, cider and potatoes

For 2 people you need:

  • 2 large pork chops on the bone
  • 1 onion, sliced into rings
  • 1 apple, I used an Egremont russet (my favourite apple just sharp enough and good firm flesh), cored and sliced but not peeled
  • ½ bottle cider, I used Aspalls Organic
  • small handful of fresh sage (about a tbsp when chopped)
  • ½ tub crème fraiche (100g)
  • 3-4 large potatoes cut into thin slices
  • salt & pepper
  • butter

What to do….

  1. Pre heat the oven to 190C/R5
  2. Put some butter in a frying pan and brown the chops, place then in a shallow casserole dish.
  3. If needed add a little extra butter and soften the onions for about 5 minutes over a low heat, add them to the pork chops.
  4. Fry the apple slices quickly and add to the casserole.
  5. Add the cider to the frying pan and bring to simmering then pour over the chops.
  6. Sprinkle the casserole with the chopped sage and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Add the crème fraiche and stir into the liquid
  8. Add the potato slices pushing them down into the creamy liquid.
  9. Cover and cook for 20 minutes then remove the lid and cook for a further 20 minutes.

The chops will be cooked but remain juicy, the potatoes will have absorbed some of the creamy liquid and cooked rather like daupinoise. Serve with a lightly steamed autumn vegetable to balance the creaminess, we had red cabbage.

A Lancashire Macaroni Cheese

I don’t particulary recall eating macaroni cheese as a child not from a Heinz tin, not lovingly made by mother or grandmother, its simply not a dish that springs to mind as something we ate often. I don’t know why. So when Fiona Beckett started the idea of the ultimate mac n’ cheese (as our friends in the US of A call it) I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to create my own version. Fiona’s competition started out simple and then got lots of categories (best this, best that, best other and so on) and I toyed with the artisanal cheese category for quite sometime knowing which cheese I would choose. And then Fiona announced the prizes and my mind was made up I had to have the Emma Bridgewater macaroni cheese dish come what may. So my entry is for the most original recipe.

Starting with my artisanal cheese idea and then spooling it out into the dish my mother or grandmother could have made I decide this had to be a dish based in the foods of Lancashire (well apart from the macaroni of course). I played with adding things like vimto or tizer, might they be secret umami giving ingredients, unlikely, so they were consigned to the ‘too original’ slot. Some researching in Laura Mason and Catherine Brown’s Traditional Foods of Britain (if you don’t have this book and you love British food just get it) led me to two possibilities: potted shrimps or bury black pudding. A tough one a really tough one. So I flipped a coin and it came down on the side of the black pudding.

Here’s what I did (its in old measures in honour of my Grandma):

A Lancashire Macaroni Cheese

Ingredients (for 2 hungry people):

1 bury black pudding (the sort in a hoop shape and of about 1” diameter)
3-4 oz dried macaroni each – depending on your greed
¾ pint full fat milk
1 oz flour
1 oz butter and some for frying
4 oz Sandhams Tasty Lancashire cheese*
2 oz Booths** Special Reserve Tasty Lancashire Cheese*, grated/crumbled

pre heat oven to R4/180C


  1. Cook the macaroni in boiling lightly salted water as per the instructions on your packet (mine said 8 minutes). When cooked drain and keep on one side.
  2. Slices the black pudding into ½” rounds and fry quickly on either side in a small amount of butter. You are aiming for the outside to be crispy and the middle still soft. Removes the skin from the pudding and crumble the slices.
  3. Make a white sauce of a thickish consistency (between coating and panada) using the ‘all in one’ method. So put the flour, milk and butter in a pan and heat gently stirring continouosly until it thickens. Add the 4oz of Sandhams Tasty Lancashire cheese and season to taste.
  4. Find a shallow dish, butter it (dream of it being this Emma Bridgewater dish).
  5. Toss the crumbled black pudding in with the cooked macaroni, stir in the cheese sauce. Tip it all in the buttered dish.
  6. Sprinkle with the 2oz of Booths Special Reserve Tasty Lancashire.
  7. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  8. Eat and dream of Lancashire.

* If you don’t know that there’s more than 1 version of real Lancashire cheese then watch out for my tasting of seven types coming soon. I’ve picked these two examples because like all Lancashire they melt beautifully and because they differ in strength, the Sandhams is slighty milder (but still with a good tang) the Booths** has a strong tasty Lancs hit.

** Booths is a small supermarket chain based in the North West of England. If all supermarkets were like Booths it would be a good thing.

Can I cook Chile Verde?

Tomatillos. anytime
Tomatillos. anytime

And can Karen cook asparagus tart?

Asparagus spears, early evening
Asparagus spears, early evening

It’s a kind of recipes at dawn this, Chile Verde vs. asparagus tart, one blogger pitched against another. Masterchef without the cameras, or the publicity, or the random commentary, or the…….well almost any of it. Just a bit of fun.

You might remember back in early May I was ‘adopted’ by Karen over at ‘Karen Cooks’. We did a blogo-interview of each other to introduce our very different worlds and in the meantime I’ve been asking Karen lots of questions about food and blogging and incorporating things I’m learning into my blog. Anyway, we thought it might be fun to have a cook-off: each pick a recipe from the others blog that would be a bit challenging and new and then cook and blog it. We agreed that we mustn’t pick something too easy but also we aren’t to email back and forth to ask for guidance if we get stuck, we’ve got to make our own judgements on how to substitute things. No winner, no loser just some fun.

But as soon as you start to think about it there’s lots of hurdles and tests.